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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Neuroscience (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

John Barrett

Second Committee Member

Bingren Hu

Third Committee Member

Michael Norenberg

Fourth Committee Member

Miguel Perez-Pinzon

Fifth Committee Member

Carlos Moraes


Mitochondrial respiratory chain deficiency and increased oxidative stress have been closely associated with major age-associated neurodegenerative diseases. I hypothesized that mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation defects or elevated oxidative stress, which could arise in a stochastic manner during our normal aging process, might modulate the formation of protein aggregates or production of misfolded proteins, contributing to the initiation of these diseases. To test this hypothesis, we (i) have developed and characterized mouse and cellular models of Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases expressing aggregate-prone pathogenic proteins, beta-amyloid and mutant huntingtin (Chapters 1 and 2), (ii) have developed mouse models that exhibit neuron-specific defects in mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (Chapters 2 and 3), and (iii) have evaluated the alterations in the amount of aggregate loads upon genetic and pharmacological manipulations of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation activities (Chapters 1 and 2). The evaluation of the impacts of mitochondrial defects on the amount of huntingtin aggregates has revealed that a defect in complex III promotes the accumulation of huntingtin aggregates via the impairment of proteasome activity (Chapter 1). On the other hand, ablation of complex IV activity in a subset of postmitotic neurons revealed that complex IV deficiency does not promote either oxidative stress or the deposition of amyloid plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, questioning the mitochondrial origin of Alzheimer's disease (Chapter 2). However, as shown previously, the tight correlation between oxidative stress and accumulation of amyloid plaques was found. Chapter 3 involved the generation of an improved mouse model, in which mitochondrial defects can be induced in a subset of forebrain neurons (cortex, hippocampus, and striatum) in a doxycycline-dependent manner. This system relies on the regulated expression of a mitochondria-targeted restriction enzyme, PstI, which digests mitochondrial DNA and thereby impairs the activity of oxidative phosphorylation. In conclusion, our studies highlighted the disease-specific complex pathways that may modulate the accumulation of misfolded proteins during aging. Future studies employing the newly-developed mouse model may reveal a contribution of age-associated global defects of oxidative phosphorylation to oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases.


Oxidative Phosphorylation; Aging; Alzheimer's Disease; Huntington's Disease; Mitochondrial DNA; Oxidative Stress